January 31, 2008 / 1:53 PM / 12 years ago

Experts unearth medieval Berlin under car park

BERLIN (Reuters) - A team of experts has unearthed an 800-year-old cellar under a central Berlin car park which they say dates the city back to the 12th century, earlier than previously thought.

The Quadriga on top of Berlin's landmark Brandenburg Gate is silhouetted against a cloudy summer evening sky in Berlin August 3, 2007. A team of experts has unearthed an 800-year-old cellar under a central Berlin car park which they say dates the city back to the 12th century, earlier than previously thought. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

The cellar, which dates from 1192, was found alongside the remains of a graveyard, church and school on a site which the archaeologists say formed the heart of medieval Berlin.

Museum experts had previously been able to date the medieval town where Berlin now stands back to 1237 using church records.

“We are unearthing a medieval town in the centre of a modern city. Usually modern cities are so built up which makes excavation difficult — so this is a very rare find,” said lead archaeologist Claudia Melisch, running her hand along striped layers of medieval soil.

The 1,100 square meter dig site, overshadowed by grey concrete tower blocks and enclosed by busy roads, was first unearthed in March last year, when the team found skeletons and the remains of a school from later in the Middle Ages.

But the cellar, which was discovered just a few weeks ago, became the site’s prize find this week, when its oak beams were dated for the first time.

Melisch said the site, which straddled medieval Berlin and the town of Coelln, was especially lucky to survive Berlin’s bombardment during World War Two when large parts of the city were completely destroyed.

Ironically, it was thanks to a thick layer of concrete that the site survived intensive East German building programs during post-war years which drove foundations through the soil.

“It is so lucky this was all under a car park. It meant that very few pipelines went through the archaeological evidence, allowing it to be preserved,” Melisch said.

Excavation work will continue at the site, located on Berlin’s central ‘Museum Island,’ until September.

Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Charles Dick

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